Sometimes I marvel that I allow four-legged hairy beasts to live with us.

I'd like to tell you about all of the wonderful things that can happen with pets. About the delightful days with fluffy puppies, the giggly days with balls of yarn and kittens, the fascinating things that hamsters and goldfish can do. However, it’s not always like that. Pets hold a special place in family lives for all kinds of reasons and many of you have seen things like I have seen: The dehydrated carcas of a fire-belly toad discarded among dust bunnies under a bunkbed. Surprise! A vibrant green garden snake on the master bathroom floor. A wheelbarrow full of crawfish, lovingly pushed up hill from creek to house for further examination. A balding rat, the size of a cat, battling my broom then later a friend’s tennis racccquet in my beloved East Nashville kitchen. When we moved to the country we had guinea pigs and a giant bearded dragon in the playroom. We’ve had tiny turtles that dove into deep water from rocks when you walked into the room. We’ve had geckos, hermit crabs and too many fish to count, but I never gave in to snakes ... those were only observed at the exotic pet store. And dogs? Always dogs for us. Growing up, my family had an impressive array of them: Spotty, Prince Fido, Mr. Murphy, Duke, Heather, Max, Tex, Ribsy, Simon, Sandy, Pepper.  And we had a cat named One-Eyed Cutie, because, yes, that’s right. Spotty had puppies when I was about 7. My mother made a nice crate for whelping, but when Spotty’s time came she was nowhere to be seen. My brother eventually found her at the foot of our cool, dark linen closet atop a blanket, nursing what looked to me like wet, hairy sausages. Not what I’d expected from the cover of Hallmark cards. It was off-putting. But when they eventually opened their eyes days later, I thought those teeny blue marbles the loveliest things I’d ever seen. Day after day I watched Spotty mother them, clean them, discipline them, and eventually, before we gave them away, I got to play and play and play with them. It never ceases to amaze me that we get to share the Earth with animals, and sometimes I marvel that I allow four-legged hairy beasts to live with us, but then the world is full of wonders. And I like to think about what my youngest son said to me when he heard a friend's mom tell her boy "No" when he asked for a dog. "Mom," Thomas said. "She doesn't know that she's missing out on all of that love."